A hostile immigration policy is threatening the viability of the UK economy
The UK Government’s Brexit denial is costing this country its greatest treasure – people. To continually deny that Brexit isn’t to blame for the Chef job shortage plaguing the country right now beggar’s belief, despite a hostile immigration system which wants to close the door to vital overseas workers.
We have an immigration policy which pushes for highly skilled and high-wage jobs, but which is out of touch with the way our economy works and the variety of vital and often unsung roles needed to keep it afloat.
Industry leaders are crying out for an audience with the Home Office to negotiate more access to overseas labour markets, whilst the businesses they represent begin to crumble under pressure. But they are being dismissed by a Government concerned only with saving face and too proud to admit that Brexit is in large part to blame.
I attended a labour crisis meeting last week which heard from industry representatives reiterating the scale of the problem impacting sectors such as haulage, horticulture and hospitality. Their sobering accounts hit home the severity of the situation, as well as their sheer frustrations with a Government that isn’t willing to listen.
The CEO of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Mark Crothall, reported some sombre figures from his members, many of whom are being held to ransom over pay and working conditions.
He revealed that there are currently 100 vacancies at Gleneagles, 100 vacancies at Crieff Hydro, while Auchrannie Hotel and Spa, on Arran, is incentivising guests with £1,000 gift vouchers to try to recommend employees. Before Covid, Crieff Hydro had 1,000 staff on its payroll but now has only 425 and, last week, the manager had to sit 400 people for breakfast with only four staff on the rota. This gives just a small taste of what is a truly worrying situation for businesses nationwide.
According to the Office of National Statistics, the vacancies within tourism and hospitality are twice that of the economy as a whole. Competition to find staff is driving wages through the roof and, although addressing poor wages in certain roles is long overdue, it is not sustainable at current levels.
I heard that a 17-year-old chambermaid at Prestonfield House was earning £28,000 a year and bar tenders in Glasgow were being offered £30,000. In rural areas, an even smaller labour pool to recruit from has resulted in some restaurants reportedly paying waitresses £14 an hour.
Hotels are having to answer to increased demands for flexible hours from new and existing staff, with some individuals only willing to work one or two shifts a week. I know of countless hotels and small independent restaurants who have had to dramatically change their opening hours and close their doors on certain weekdays, due to both food supply issues and a lack of staff.
There is a chef job shortage globally, let alone in the UK, but this has artificially driven up wages and, according to Marc Crothall, “chefs could literally hold the world to ransom right now”.
In Scotland, there is currently a 3,000 chef job shortage being advertised and I was told that one well-known hotel has just recruited 15 chefs from abroad, paying £2,600 in recruitment costs for each of them, as well as picking up the tab for all associated costs of them coming over, without any guarantee of their skills or whether they will stay with the business.
Every single relief chef is working and many are being promoted into positions of responsibility without having to acquire the leaderships skills which come from working their way up the business.
One restaurant owner revealed that, pre-Covid, their head chef was on £26,000 for a 50-60 hour week but is now on around £40,000 and only wants to work 30 to 35 hours a week and not a Saturday or Sunday. They have gone through four head chefs in the last four months.
The tourism and hospitality sector has written to the UK Government asking for the introduction of a Covid recovery visa for at least two years to allow adequate time to train up chefs in the UK, but their demands have fallen on deaf ears.
UK consumers may be slightly more sympathetic to the burden facing the hospitality sector right now, but when international visitors return in their droves, there will be an expectation by high-paying customers for the delivery of the quality service which has come to be associated with the UK.
COP26 is coming to Glasgow in less than a month and The UK Government will be expecting us to roll out the red carpet for our global visitors but, realistically, how are we going to accommodate their demands without people?
The three-month visa which has recently been granted to recruit up to 5,500 poultry workers in a bid to “save Christmas” ignores other sectors which are crying out for labour. By the time employers’ factor in organising visas, accommodation, bank accounts and travel, realistically, they would only be bringing over workers for six weeks.
It is a slap in the face to EU workers who have returned home following Brexit, feeling unwelcome in the UK, to then be told they are needed to save Christmas – but must be out before Christmas Day. Take a moment to recognise how absurd this is!
The UK Government cannot continue to bury its head in the sand and must realise that, by keeping the doors sealed to overseas workers, vital parts of the UK economy simply can’t function. This is not just about saving Christmas but ensuring the long-term survival of UK businesses before it is too late.
The original version of this article was first published on Herald Scotland
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